Goodbye to the accidental classic
With the recent UK scrap page scheme, in which owners were paid to scrap older, inefficient cars in favour of new low emission cars, coming to an end in November, I began thinking about the impact that schemes such as these would have on the classic landscape in years to come.
I read a comment online last month that put forward the view that driving a ten-year old Range Rover was tantamount to destroying the planet. The very same author also shared a great admiration for the pre-1996 shape classic Range Rover, seemingly without any consideration that the very same classic Range Rover would, at some stage, have been a ten-year-old car. A 25-year-old classic shape Range Rover cannot exist without the previous owners crossing the ownership void that exists between the two.
The average scrappage age for cars in the UK is just under 14 years and at the same time cars typically begin their journey to classic status from around 20 years old. There is no agreed upon fixed measure for this – some say 20 years, some 30 years, and the government, via the historic tax status, uses the measure of 40 years. The figure is not as important as the theory. With the exception of the most expensive marques, at some point around 14 years old, the average car will begin to produce maintenance bills that are disproportionately high compared to the market value of the car.
Therefore, to bridge the gap from 14 years to 20+ years, there has to have either been an owner, or a number of owners, who have decided to keep that car on the road despite the fact that it is a poor financial decision to do so – let’s call them custodians.
Research has shown that owners are likely to become a custodian of an older car if they have a strong personal bond to it – typically either having put in love, sweat and tears to keeping it on the road, or they have strong experiences linked with the car (it was used as a wedding car, or a bucket list road trip for example).
Since the 1980s, in most cases, a car could be used far beyond 14 years old if desired – there would be an increased level of non-routine maintenance, but it would be technically possible. This is especially true of cars produced since the early 2000s as galvanised steel began to be used more widely; whereas rust used to send otherwise mechanically sound cars to the scrapyard in the sky, today it is more likely to be as a result of shifting government policy. The number of days left until it is no longer possible to buy an internal combustion car are now quantifiable. As the shift to other forms of propulsion continues, older cars are subject to increasing scrutiny around their emissions and the impact that these have on the environment. At the same time that cites roll out low emission schemes targeting older cars, annual road fund licence charges and/or taxes are also increasing. This creates a situation where the market demand for non-Euro 4 and Euro 6 cars is diminishing whilst the operating costs are increasing. This does nothing to underpin the values of these cars, which in turn means that there will be fewer buyers willing to take them on.
Some cars have a special quality that means they are destined to be sought after even without the application of an arbitrary age (Ferrari 355, Jaguar E-Type, Porsche GT3) and some are accidental classics. The popularity, and resulting residual values, of older 4×4 vehicles such as the original Range Rover, G-Wagon and Defender is not something that would have been foreseen when they were purchased new. We are not talking blue-chip classics here, but cars that find pockets of appreciation down the line once the majority have disappeared.
The Saab 93 Cabriolet, Hyundai Coupe and Mazda RX-8 are not classics by any stretch, but they’re on that trajectory to niche appreciation. All are available for under £2000 at the moment, but they can also attract an annual road tax charge of £585, which means that they are all a set of new tyres away from being unviable to run and own. By legislating older cars of the road, we will lose those cars that in time become part of the fabric of the scene, the sort of car you see at a show and only then realise you haven’t seen one for ten years. Instead, we will only have those cars with residual values deemed worthy enough to maintain.
As the industry focuses on the environmental impact of ICE cars, and especially older ones, I’m not denying that some of these probably should be off the road to help move towards societal goals. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be sad to know that chunks of the automotive landscape are going to be erased forever and that we are reaching the point when we say goodbye to the possibility of having anymore accidental classics.